Every Premier League team’s greatest one-club man: Saka, Foden, Rashford or TAA next?

Dave Tickner
Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka chat before England's World Cup quarter-final against France

A few years ago we thought the very idea of a one-club man was dying out in the Premier League. Too hard for young players to make it through without early development-boosting loan deals and also no loyalty in the modern game, is there? Hmm? Marvellous.

But if Arsenal are going to make a proper go of this ‘being really good’ caper and get Bukayo Saka tied down to a new long-term contract then we could be approaching a new golden age of one-clubbers. Saka joins Phil Foden, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Marcus Rashford on a pretty sexy list of genuine contenders among current elite Premier League clubs.

Admittedly the stocks are slightly thinner elsewhere, but still.

Here, then, we’ve got the greatest ever one-club man from each Premier League team and the current likeliest (a word with a very elastic definition for our purposes here) candidate to join the pantheon.

And this is a pretty strict definition of ‘one club’. No loan moves, no late sojourns in far-away lands…just one-club men who did not play first-team football for another league club either in England or elsewhere.


ARSENAL – Tony Adams (1983-2002)
One of the great one-club men, with a career spanning 19 years, four league titles and over 500 league appearances. It’s the kind of service that earns you a statue, an MBE and a spot on Strictly Come Dancing.
Next? A previous, 2020, iteration of this feature had Joe Willock in it. Sadly, that train has sailed and so we’ll just have to go with Bukayo Saka instead. What might have been, eh? At least Adams rates him, anyway.


ASTON VILLA – Billy Walker (1919-1934)
Billy Walker made 531 appearances for Villa, scoring a really quite magnificent 244 goals. He had joined the Villa at the age of 14 and did not kick a ball for another club until his retirement, winning an FA Cup trophy along the way. He would win the same trophy twice as a manager – with Sheffield Wednesday in 1935 and Nottingham Forest in 1959.
Next? Jacob Ramsey’s seven games on loan at Doncaster in 2019/20 are a right pisser here, because it leaves the cupboard entirely bare.


BOURNEMOUTH – Paul Morrell (1983-1993)
Of course you already know that Paul Morrell scored the winning goal in the first Football League Trophy Final, when the Cherries beat Hull City 2-1 in 1984 in front of a crowd of 6,544. Harry Redknapp was the manager that day.
Next? Jordan Zemura’s youth career at Charlton need not concern us here, and his 61 appearances for Bournemouth actually place him among the less spurious entrants on this list.


BRENTFORD – Kevin O’Connor (1999-2015)
Made over 500 appearances in his 16-year Brentford career, over 200 of those as captain. Moved into coaching after his retirement, at Brentford of course, and since 2018 has been a member of Thomas Frank’s first-team coaching staff.
Next? Disappointing absence of ‘journeyman player who stays with club during precipitous rise through the leagues’ in the Brentford backstory, we have to admit. Still, er, well, there’s third-choice keeper, England U20 international Matthew Cox. He’s not played a game for anyone else. He’s not played a game for Brentford either, admittedly, but come on.


BRIGHTON – Steve Burtenshaw (1952-1966)
Winner of the Third Division (South) and Fourth Division with Brighton, you probably know him better from the whole ‘taking bungs when working with George Graham at Arsenal’ farrago.
Next? Solly March’s sole appearance for Lewes in the Isthmian League Premier Division as a 17-year-old does not rule him out of this list. He’s 28, he’s in the form of his life, he’s closing on 300 appearances and has three years left on his current contract. Few better or likelier candidates among these names.


CHELSEA – Tommy Law (1957-1969)
It could have been John Terry, but instead it is Tommy Law, a Scottish full-back who generously said: “I was little more than a spectator. The ball always belonged to our forwards.” This was a man who played with fellow Scots Hughie Gallacher and Alex Jackson, so the forwards were worth watching.
Next? Reece James’ loan season at Wigan a huge blow because he’d have been a fine contender. Lewis Hall and his eight Chelsea appearances takes the spot for now but we all know what’s in his near future, even if in the longer term it does go on to also include 600 appearances for the Blues.


CRYSTAL PALACE – Terry Long (1955-1970)
Mr Reliable, defender Terry Long put together a sequence of 214 consecutive appearances in the midst of a playing career that saw him never even think about leaving Crystal Palace. A true legend, he stayed on as coach and never stopped going to Selhurst Park.
Next? Tyrick Mitchell has 85 Premier League appearances for the Eagles and with a following wind should reach 100 appearances for the club in all competitions before season’s end.


EVERTON – Brian Labone (1958-1971)
“One Evertonian is worth 20 Liverpudlians,” is the famous quote from Brian Labone, who led the Toffees to two league titles and two FA Cup trophies. Brian was Everton. If you could put together a team of every player that has ever captained Everton, every one of us would turn to Brian to lead us out. He will always be known as the captain of Everton,” said Kevin Ratcliffe on his passing.
Next? Tom Davies is nudging slowly up towards 200 games for Everton and none for anyone else, but unless he’s planning to retire at 24 then that looks set to change in the summer when his current deal runs out. Seamus Coleman, meanwhile, must be a contender for the admittedly long-winded and specific title of Player Who Most Feels Like A One-Club Man Despite Actually Playing Over 70 Games For Other Clubs.


FULHAM – George Cohen (1956-1969)
Described by George Best as “the best full-back I ever played against”, Cohen’s career is a double one-off (if that isn’t tautological). As well as being a one-club man who spent the entirety of his playing days at Fulham before being forced into retirement by injury in 1969, he also pulled off the neat trick of winning only a single trophy in his entire career but having that one trophy be the World Cup. Fellow one-club 1966 squad member Jimmy Armfield is also in that select group, but Cohen gets bonus points surely for playing every minute of every game en route to making the biggest prize his only prize.
Next? Not one single member of the current squad ticks the boxes, even if we remove the ‘must also have won the World Cup’ criterion.


LEEDS – Jack Charlton (1952-1973)
Couple of decent contenders here – Eddie Gray, Gary Kelly – but no point looking much beyond another victorious member of the 1966 squad, is there. Charlton spent 21 seasons at Leeds, racking up more than 600 appearances and collecting all three major domestic pots and many more runners-up medals. Easy to forget he was almost 30 before making a timely international debut in 1965, going on to form a partnership with Bobby Moore that would be prove so crucial to England’s success.
Next? Sam Greenwood never made an appearance for Arsenal’s first team before joining Leeds in 2020, so him. Nice story if it actually ends up being Archie Gray, though.


LEICESTER CITY – Sep Smith (1929-1949)
Don Revie dedicated an entire chapter in his autobiography to ‘What I Owe to Sep Smith’, who was his mentor at Leicester City. A suite at the King Power Stadium is named after the man christened ‘Septimus’ as he was the seventh son born into his family. History does not record whether he has a younger brother called Octimus.
Next? Luke Thomas is 78 games into a potential one-club career with the Foxes.


LIVERPOOL – Jamie Carragher (1997-2013)
No late-career MLS payday for Carra, who instead retired a one-club man before becoming the yin to Gary Neville’s yang at Sky Sports. A true legend, he won everything there was to win at Liverpool, barring the very small matter of a league title.
Next? Trent Alexander-Arnold is one of an elite gang of current contenders at some of the country’s biggest clubs. At 24 he’s already well beyond 250 appearances for Liverpool and could set some truly daft numbers if he stays at Anfield for the rest of his days, which he may very well do.


MANCHESTER CITY – Frank Swift (1933-1949)
Frank Swift did play for various sides as a guest during the war, but in peace-time he was truly a one-club man, the goalkeeper playing in every City game bar one for four consecutive seasons (including the season they won the title) until Adolf Hitler rudely interrupted his career. Post-retirement, he became a journalist and perished in the Munich air disaster.
Next? Phil Foden. Again, very strong. And again, absolutely could happen.


MANCHESTER UNITED – Ryan Giggs (1991-2014)
Simply the most decorated player in English football, and every club ball he kicked was for Manchester United. He played 963 United games, earning himself 13 league titles, four FA Cups and two Champions League medals. He wasn’t bad, you know. At football, anyway.
Next? Marcus Rashford joins TAA, Foden and Saka in a very pleasing group of potentially elite one-clubbers among the current ranks. He’s nearly 350 games into his United career and has even now taken to dismantling tabloid stories hours before they decide to still print them anyway.


NEWCASTLE UNITED – Billy McCracken (1904-1923)
Yes, 19 years as a player at Newcastle for Billy McCracken, one of a handful of players to notch over 400 games for the club. He is widely credited with being influential in the changing of the offside rule as he was so adept at catching opposition players off guard. Opposition fans hated him but the Toon Army loved him. He won three league titles in the 1900s despite originally arriving from Belfast as a back-up defender.
Next? Disqualifying loan deals for Paul Dummett and the Longstaffs (great band name) leave the north-east cupboard bare.


NOTTINGHAM FOREST – Robert McKinlay (1951-1969)
The purest of all one-clubbers, McKinlay didn’t even win an international cap to sully his Forest career. His 614 league appearances remains a Forest club record, and includes a ludicrous run of 265 consecutive appearances between 1959 and 1965. Inevitably joined the club’s coaching staff after retirement.
Next? Yeah, no. Joe Worrall and Brennan Johnson both had loan spells away from the City Ground and pretty much the rest of the squad rocked up at some point in the last 12 months.


SOUTHAMPTON – Matt Le Tissier (1986-2002)
Simply a legend. But he paid the price – he is one of the best players to have won f*** all and has in recent years caught the conspiracy theory brainworms.
Next? James Ward-Prowse is somehow only 28 but is near 400 games into his Southampton career. Might have a big decision to make come the summer…


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – Bill Nicholson (1938-1955)
“It’s been my life, Tottenham Hotspur, and I love the club,” said the great Bill Nicholson, who played in a title-winning side and then managed one. Remarkably, of the 17 major honours won by Spurs in their entire history, Nicholson was involved in nine. More recent one-club legend Ledley King was involved in one.
Next? With Harry Kane a well-travelled and infamously mediocre loanee in his younger, pre stat-padding days and Harry Winks now exiled to Italy on loan, it falls to Japhet Tanganga to carry the one-club torch at Spurs. Hasn’t yet reached 50 games for the club, but has managed the neat trick of always being just about useful enough in just about enough different ways to avoid being farmed out to your Norwiches or your Colchesters or Ligue 1 like most Spurs younglings.


WEST HAM – Ronnie Boyce (1959-1973)
“I spent quite a few years at West Ham and loved every minute of it,” said Ronnie Boyce after he was awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award for years of service as a player – including the winner in the 1964 FA Cup final – and a coach at West Ham. He was nicknamed ‘Ticker’ because he was the heartbeat of that West Ham side of the 1960s.
Next? Declan Rice, for precisely three more months.


WOLVES – Billy Wright (1939-1959)
The legendary Billy Wright missed only 31 games for Wolves during the 1950s, a decade in which he won three league titles. He also managed to amass over 100 England caps and is in every Hall of Fame worthy of the name.
Next? Max Kilman’s pre-Wolves career was played exclusively in the non-league game, which makes him an unlikely one-club contender for someone who didn’t join said club until he was 21. Still boggles the mind that a potential Ukraine call-up from Andriy Shevchenko was scuppered by his England futsal career.